November 4, 2011

Cops Rally in Support Of 16 at Ticket-Fixing Bronx Court Hearing

By Mark Toor

Hundreds of off-duty cops turned out Oct. 28 at the Bronx Courthouse in support of 16 colleagues ranking from Police Officer to Lieutenant who were being arraigned on charges related to the long-running ticket-fixing probe. Eleven of those charged are current or former Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association delegates or officers.

Some of the most prolific ticket-fixers are union officials simply because they appeared to have been deputized to fix tickets written in other precincts. But sources close to the investigation say the Bronx District Attorney’s Office has implicated 160 officers, many of whom testified before the grand jury in return for immunity from criminal charges. Some will be required to testify in court against their fellow officers, a situation they are dreading.

The Bosses Are Next

Union leaders said ticket-fixing has long been sanctioned at the highest levels of the Police Department. “Right now, this has landed on the shoulders of police officers,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement. “When the dust settles and we have our day in court, it will be clear that this is part of the NYPD all levels.”

Joining the officers gathered at the courthouse, he said, “We are here to ask the question: when did courtesy become a crime? We would also like to know why there is no investigation into the leaking of secret grand-jury testimony to the media. And most importantly, with all of the resources put into this investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau and the Bronx District Attorney’s office, why it is mostly rank-and-file police officers here in court today when the practice of extending courtesy is and has been practiced at all levels of the NYPD for a hundred years?”

The PBA sent a message to delegates asking them to encourage officers to attend the arraignment. The officers packed the courtroom, crowded the hallways and massed on the courthouse steps. They greeted prosecutors arriving at work with calls of “cowards” and “you piece of s—-.” Some of the officers wore blue t-shirts with “Bronx PBA” printed on the front and “Improving Everyone’s Quality of Life but Our Own” on the back.

“Ray Kelly, hypocrite,” they chanted on the steps, referring to Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

Kelly: Not a Courtesy

Mr. Kelly previously refused to comment on the scandal, but he broke his silence on the day of the arraignments. “Those actions are crimes under the law and can’t be glossed over as courtesies or as part of an acceptable culture,” he said. “They are not...Police officers have had, and continue to have, certain latitude and discretion in issuing summonses. But that discretion does not extend, and was never intended to extend, to the destruction or altering of official records such as summonses, or their testimony after the fact.” Summonses are often fixed by being destroyed at the precinct level, or by shading testimony at traffic court so an Administrative Judge will dismiss the case.

The Sergeants’ Benevolent Association called on Mr. Kelly and other top cops several months ago to make clear that ticket-fixing was “as much a culture of the department as arresting criminals,” in the words of union president Edward D. Mullins. He said that fixing tickets was a courtesy, not corruption, and that higher-ranking police officers, politicians and prominent citizens also engaged in it. The SBA invited New Yorkers to mail in stories of ticket-fixing involving police bosses and well-known people.

Mr. Mullins said in a recent interview that the stories the SBA received would be used to defend any Sergeants accused of ticket-fixing. Two of the 16 officers charged are Sergeants, Jacob G. Solorzano and Marc Manara, both of the 40th Precinct. The SBA did not respond to a request for comment Oct. 28.

Claim ADAs, Mayoral Aides Benefited

The Daily News reported Oct. 31 that angry cops had sent the paper letters naming seven Assistant District Attorneys in the Bronx and three in Manhattan of official misconduct for having tickets fixed. The letters charge that two City Hall staff members passed summonses to officers assigned to the building, who then had union delegates quash them. Numbers of specific summonses were included in the letters, according to the News, which was working to corroborate the accusations.

Bronx DA Robert Johnson estimated that the ticket-fixing had cost the city between $1 million and $2 million. “This is felony conduct,” he said. “This is criminal conduct.” The city is losing additional money, as much as $1 million a week according to estimates, because officers demoralized by the probe and angry at department scrutiny of ticket-writers’ testimony have cut way back on the number of summonses they issue.

Stephen C. Worth, a PBA lawyer who represented some of the officers at the arraignment, criticized prosecutors for blowing up a case that involved “relatively minor administrative misconduct at best.” The District Attorneys in the city’s four other boroughs said they were not pursuing ticket-fixing investigations.

The officers charged by Mr. Johnson were part of a bifurcated probe that also includes hundreds of officers accused by the department of breaking rules by fixing tickets. Those cases are being handled internally by the department, and officers are being punished by losing pay or accumulated vacation days.

PBA Officials Charged

The three PBA board members charged were Bronx Financial Secretary Brian McGuckin and Bronx Trustees Police Joseph Anthony of Patrol Borough Bronx, and Michael Hernandez of the 52nd Precinct. The delegates charged were Jose R. Ramos, Virgilio Bencosme and Luis R. Rodriguez of the 40th Precinct; Christopher Manzi of the 41st Precinct; Eugene P. O’Reilly of the 45th Precinct; Jamie Payan of the 46th Precinct; and Christopher Scott of the 48th Precinct. Jason Cenizal, a former delegate at the 42nd Precinct, was also indicted.

Most of the union representatives were charged with one or more felonies: forgery, grand larceny, or tampering with public records. They also were charged with misdemeanor counts of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstructing governmental administration, one count for each ticket fixed. Mr. O’Reilly, who is charged with fixing the most tickets, had more than 250 counts.

The star of the proceeding was Mr. Ramos. The case began in December 2008 when the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau began investigating allegations that he was using two barbershops he owned as distribution points for marijuana. Investigators who wiretapped him overheard him talking about fixing tickets. He was indicted on more than two dozen charges, including attempted robbery, attempted grand larceny, and transporting heroin for drug dealers. His wife was also arrested. She was charged with participating in an insurance scam with him.

Say IAB Lieut. Warned Cops

Mr. Ramos had been a driver for Sergeant Solorzano, who was charged with official misconduct.

The Lieutenant, Jennara Cobb, was charged with three misdemeanors involving allegations that she leaked information about the investigation to Bronx patrol officers while she was assigned to IAB. Her attorney, Philip Karasyk, said she denied the allegations but information about the probe was coming from everywhere. “That wiretap was leaking like a sieve,” he said.